Non-verbal communication and an enthusiast’s experience with ‘Deaf Cricket’

A match between Pakistan and India deaf teams in progress in Peshawar on, 28 March 2005. (File photo: AFP)

As I pushed and elbowed my way toward the cricket stadium in Gurgaon, slowly interpreting the ear-splitting commentary booming out of the loudspeakers, I took a deep breath.

In front of me, as I envisaged, was a larger-than-life cricket match happening between India and Sri Lanka. The final tournament of the Deaf ICC T20 world cup was spell-binding, but intrinsically different. It was for the first time that India organized this tournament, including teams from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa.

As a cricket fanatic who watches matches with bated breath and nail-biting suspense, I slowly scrutinized the entire spectacle. From far, it looked as a normal tournament, with two teams competing against each other while others sat facing toward the pitch, wearing their respective country’s flannels, completely transfixed with the game.

The only, perhaps the most fundamental anomaly, here was the lack of sound.

The entire experience was categorically different, especially because the way we participated in it was completely in contrast with how the players did. Yet, the spirit of sportsmanship galvanized across these impediments, transforming the initially passive match into a scathing competitive one.

Each country has its own sign language, which is at times, different from global sign language. Every team has an interpreter to communicate gestures, body language inputs, reactions, reflexes and opinions

Shubhda Chaudhary

Sign language

Deaf cricket is different at several stages. To start with, each country has its own sign language, which is at times, different from the international sign language. Every team hence has an interpreter to communicate gestures, body language inputs, reactions, reflexes and opinions.

Though, few players, especially those from Australia, South Africa wear Cochlear implants, they cannot wear them while playing in the field. The implants cause a sensory overload, heightening the decibels, eventually jamming the sound inputs for the players.

Stefan Pichowski, the British chairperson of Deaf ICC, explained the process. Now 38-years-old, Stefan had an implant three years back. Though he always represented England’s deaf cricket team, his life did change when he heard sound for the first time.

“Visuals play an important role in deaf cricket. It is all about non-verbal communication. At times, yes the deaf cricketers do not get the same information as their hearing inputs are restricted,” he said. Today Stefan can easily communicate, laugh and integrate with the audience.

Tough, the idea of deaf cricket is still in its nascent phase in India, the international deaf players exude the enigmatic spirit of utter confidence. A lot also differs on the kind of coaching, funding and support these teams receive in their home country. For example, Melbourne cricket club is one of the oldest sporting club for the deaf cricketers. Thereby, the finesse, excellence and reflex actions of the Australian cricketers are comparatively better.

Not an impediment

Australian cricketer David Melling who scored 112 for 63 balls against Nepal, confidently projects that hearing loss isn’t an impediment in cricket. ‘I aim to join the international team’, he says, beaming with hope. The very intrinsic idea that deafness is a hindrance, a liability does not exist in the vocabulary of players like him.

Even Brett Lee, the Australian cricket legend, who was the Chief Guest of honor in the finals, stated that awareness about hearing loss is very important. Linking his injuries, surgeries and challenges in his cricket career, Brett had inspired the players to rise above it. Since 2015, Brett Lee has been working tirelessly to promote hearing health.

But perhaps, the journey of deaf cricket in India along with the needed awareness is still a far-fetched idea. When compared to his Indian counterparts, the story unfolds in a different way. Sumit Jain, the General-Secretary of Deaf Cricket Society in India, states ‘I couldn’t hear since childhood but loved playing cricket. So, along with my friends, I established the deaf cricket society in 2012. The journey has been tough, especially due to the political hurdles but now we have grown from state-level to international level.

Unfortunately, Board Control for cricket in India (BCCI) does not fund and support the deaf team. ‘The annual investment in international cricket is Rs 8000 crore, but yet we are not funded,’ he reflects.

Nevertheless, away from the ruthless obstacles and political hurdles, the entire game of deaf cricket is an enjoyable experience. The concrete manner in which the players take wickets, score sixes and interpret the opposing team’s intentions is spell-binding. As the commentary continues and everyone remains enamored by the sport, the absence of sound does not necessarily emerge up.
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Shubhda Chaudhary is a PhD scholar specializing in Middle East politics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She writes opinion pieces for Indian newspapers and think-tanks in UAE and South Africa. She pursued her Master’s in International Journalism from London and has given lectures at Cambridge University, UK and Leadership Summit at Washington DC. Shubhda tweets @ShubhdaC.

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